Ok, you've got your music down, your band's having fun, and you start getting attention from local venues. Excellent work! Now comes the fun part - getting your live performance down. These few tips may seem obvious to some, but it details a few things that should always be on your mind going into any gig, whether you're playing bars or you're playing arenas, these concepts still apply to every musician.
1. Always have a plan B
Things happen, usually at the worst times. For guitarists, having a backup guitar, cable, drumsticks, or mic clip is generally a good idea. Lead players especially have a tendency to break strings (at least I do) at the worst times, and this can lead to some awkward moments if you aren't prepared.
2. Be prepared to improvise
If, in the event a guitar string breaks right before your big lick or solo, always know another way to play that riff, or what chords you'll be playing over. It helps to improvise with your band at rehearsals, that way when you go on stage you won't flop trying to 'make it happen'. Having a strong sense of music theory, and knowledge of chord structure is essential if you're going to make a good performance turn into a great one. The more you improvise, the more you'll learn to read what an audience is feeling, and the more you'll be able to harness their energy.
3. Always thank the audience, the other bands, and the venue you're performing at.
They may not say anything if you forget, but they'll usually remember if you do. This helps to connect on a personal level with the attendees and other musicians at your shows.
4. Always have a tuner for your instruments.
This should go without saying, but in a 'loud' environment, a lot of players can often hear the subtleties of their tone a lot less, and having a tuner can be essential. You don't have to tune between every song (unless you have an old guitar and you bend a lot of notes - like me), but you should at least be checking your tuning once every few songs.
5. Save the partying for after the show!
This is essential, especially for drummers, as they are the foundation of the band. I can't tell you how many musicians I've played with that believe wholeheartedly that they need to drink copious amounts of alcohol/smoke whatever is handed to them to 'get warmed up'. This is simply not true, and a red-flag that it may be time to switch things around, or rethink your game plan. Singers often have a shot before a set - and that can be ok, but if you've downed a fifth of vodka and you haven't even gotten to the show - You're not likely to be giving it your 100%, or even half that.
6. Record ALL of your practices
Make a list of things that can be improved, and especially take note of your set time. Be prepared to have a 30, 45, and 60 minute set, or more. I recall playing a gig at a high profile venue, with a high profile headlining act. We were told to prepare a 30 minute set, but low and behold when we got to that show, they had assigned us a 60 minute time-slot. This could have been the gig of our lives, but unfortunately we ended up having to cut it to about 45 minutes, with no material left to perform. I will never forget that show, and the wave of cheers that rolled in the first half hour, but I'll also never forget the feeling of thousands of people wanting to hear the band they paid for after 45 minutes.
7. ALWAYS have a merch table.
Most importantly - hire someone you trust wholeheartedly to run it for you. I've been to many shows where a band has a merch table set up, with T-Shirts, Hats, Stickers, CD's, coffee cups, you name it. Not a soul in sight to sell anything. This can be a big source of income for your band, and often times you might find that you'll get paid more for merch than you do for playing the gig, even after ticket sales and drink percentages are paid out.
8. Have a CD for people to listen to.
Even if it's just a demo, recorded on a portable sound recorder - make something that you're proud of, and be sure it showcases the best of your abilities. Recording your bandmates individually will test their knowledge of the material, and inexperience will stick out like a sore thumb if they're unable to perform without their other bandmates.
9. Have stage effects
This could mean extra lighting, fog machines, sound effects, or echo's. Have a member of your team learn the cues for when these effects need to go off (i.e. Turn on the fog machine at the start of the solo section in songs 1, 3 and 5). These effects can go a long way towards making your performance feel special. They may even help to inspire you to perform your best as well (who doesn't feel a bit godlike playing a ripping solo under some fog - I know I always appreciated it).
10. Take lots of photos
Both from the stage, and from the audiences perspective. Not only will this show your band doing what they do, but it will give fuel to your social media pages, and (hopefully) make other bands envious. If you've got your set down to a 'T', then you can focus a bit more on what will take you to your next performance.
11 - Bring professional gear
If you're still using that old beater guitar that you got when you were 10, it had better be up to the task of performing. This means checking that your equipment is properly tuned, intonated, not 'squealing' (in guitar pickups), and not going to distort beyond recognition.
12. Always inquire about the next gig.
As I used to say, if we don't get at least one new gig as a result of this performance, we didn't do our jobs well enough. This may sound strict, but if you're bringing a set that is going to draw some attention and showcase some serious talent, people will take notice, and they won't wait to see you on 'Facebook'. Talk to the owners, see what they thought, and what they think you can improve on. Ask them what the best shows they've hosted were, and why. Be that band.
13. Name your band, and name your tunes
If you're a prog rock band, or instrumentalist, don't expect the whole audience to know every section of music ahead of time. A lot of people may like your music, but give them something to go home and search for, if they are inspired.
Having moments where you can interact with each other as band mates really makes you seem together as a whole. Have at least one, and at most 2 or 3 sections of your music where you can tell a story, or a joke, or something in the news that just happened. This also helps you connect with the people in attendance, and shows that you aren't just doing the same thing every night.
15. Have fun
Always remember - the audience is feeling what you're feeling. If you're having the worst day of your life, you just got dumped, you're nervous as hell, you just puked, your manager hates you, etc. Just be sure to keep any drama off-stage, because even if an audience has no idea what is happening behind-the-scenes, they'll feel exactly what you're feeling. As they say, it's boogie fever - they can't fight it, and neither can you.
All in all, if you're getting good gigs, or even bad ones - You're already ahead of 99% of the bands that get started out there. So you can always be proud of that. It's important to keep yourself in check, and to know that there's always the 'next guy'. If you do a great job, people will notice. If not, then you may get 'blacklisted' and find getting gigs gets tougher and tougher. But don't sweat it. After all, you don't want to lose all that hair you've spent so many years growing out.
Article written and published by ZR Guitar Pickups